What Is A Garmin Vivosmart HR? Best Fitness Tracker for Me

There is a good chance if you are looking at this post, you might have clicked on a link in my previous post “Ways to lower high blood pressure-Brisk walking with a Gizmo,” or you have come here to gather more information on what the Garmin Vivosmart HR is all about.

Maybe you are looking for a basic fitness band with an optical sensor which can track your heart rate, calories, and your activities.

Either way, you’ve come to the right page to get an in-depth user-informed review of the Garmin Vivosmart HR. I have been wearing the device for the last five weeks, and so I have a pretty good understanding of how it works.

In this article, I will take a particularly close look at how to set and use the Vivosmarthr for activity tracking. You will find out in what sizes and colors it comes, what functions and displays it has, and how it connects and syncs with your smartphone or desktop app.

If you are curious, as I was, to understand how this fitness tracker works, well- I have dedicated a paragraph to that question as well.

In a hurry? See the fitness tracker here. If you have a burning question and would rather quickly skip to that, please use the table below.

A Garmin Vivosmart HR Review

The Vivosmart is a bit like a watch, although it is more of a smart fitness tracker, which also tells you the time and date. That said, the device uses optical sensor technology to track your heart rate 24/7. It counts your steps and calculates the calories you spend in a day.

Since it incorporates a barometric altimeter, it also counts the stairs you are climbing. The unit has a vibration alert and a find- my- phone- function. There is a wake alarm function, which you can turn on and off from your wrist. However, to set the alarm time, you need to do this from the app.  

How does the Garmin Vivosmart HR work?

garmin-vivosmart-hr-how-does-it-workThe Vivosmart hr uses the Elevate optical sensor, which the company developed in-house. You will not find much more detail than that if you go hunting for the physical principle the fitness trackers data output is based on.

I wanted to understand its inner clockwork a bit better, as this would enable me to make more sense of the limitations and accuracy problems the fitness tracker faces. When I looked at the sensor, it reminded me of the pulse oximetry, which is used in a clinical- or hospital setting.

So I figured that most wrist wearables with heart rate monitors employ photoplethysmography (PPG).

Presumably, what happens in a Vivosmart hr while it sits on the wrist, is what you see in the little cartoon on the left, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

In very simple terms there are at least two LEDs that send light into the skin and measure the amount of light which is then scattered by the blood flow.

Components of the Sensor Technology

It is slightly more complicated than described above in that PPG needs four elements to be able to come up with a heart rate number.

Apart from an optical emitter, the system requires a digital signal processor (DSP) and a motion sensor, which together with the data from the DSP inputs into PPG algorithms to produce the heart rate data. Needless to say that the technology described, has to overcome some stiff challenges which in turn affect its accuracy. More of that in the dedicated chapter of this article.

Vivosmart HR Specs

What is in the Box?

garmin-vivosmarthrWhen your Vivosmart arrives, you find three things in the box: the fitness band, a USB charger, and paperwork which includes a small manual and relevant safety and product information. 

what is a garmin-vivosmarthr


Garmin Vivosmart HR Manual

The Vivosmart HR Quick Start Manual covers the device overview very briefly, tracking features, pairing with the smartphone and charging.

The manual also talks to how to wear the device, and they advise to move it up the wrist to get more accurate readings.

You find a more detailed manual, FAQ and access to the online forum by following a link in your Garmin Connect app help section.

Battery Life

The unit has a rechargeable lithium battery, which, according to the datasheet, provides up to five days of battery life. I find that this depends very much on how intensely I use it. I tend to hook it up to the charger every other day, it charges very quickly.

Displays and Controls

what-is-a-garmin-vivosmart hr-

The Vivosmart HR syncs automatically  with the Garmin Connect app on your phone. However, you can also sync manually from the main menu. 

When you pair the device with your smartphone, you can receive texts, calls, emails, social media alerts, and the weather report.

From your Vivosmart HR, you have control over your music volume and your VIRB action camera, which you can buy separately. 

There is only one physical button on the device; you can reach all other menus and settings via the touch screen.

TheVivosmart stores details (time, distance,average heart rate and calories) of the last two tracked activities.

Garmin Vivosmart HR – Sizes and Colors

The Garmin Vivosmart HR fitness band is available in two sizes: regular and X-large; and there are three colors: black, imperial purple and midnight blue.

The regular size fits a wrist circumference of 5.4″-7.4″ (137-188cm), and the X-large fits wrist sizes of 7.1″-8.8″ (180-221cm). I chose the regular size, and in case you are worried- that size fits small wrists very nicely.

Both the regular, and the X-large model are very light weight with 1 oz and 1,1 oz respectively.

Garmin Vivosmart HR Charger

The charger is a proprietary micro-USB charger designed to charge the Vivosmart HR only.  There are four little charger posts, which you align with the contacts on the device.garmin-vivosmart hr chargergarmin vivosmart hr charger

You press the charger into the contacts until it clicks; the lock is secure, and it unclicks easily.

Once you have unboxed your device, it is a good idea to charge it first, then power it on.

Is the Vivosmart HR Waterproof?

Yes, the device is waterproof up to 5ATM, meaning that you can take your Garmin into the pool and for snorkeling. Just make sure, you remove it for High-Speed Watersports and SCUBA diving. 

However, I do not use it for activity tracking such as counting my laps in the pool as I am not convinced it would be accurate. Currently, there are enough accuracy obstacles the sensor technology has to overcome, leaving alone a “water challenge.”

Garmin Connect™Mobile  App

what is garmin vivosmarthr-connect-mobileNext, you would download and install the app on your smartphone. The Vivosmart HR utilizes the  Bluetooth Smart, a low-energy power efficient technology, to wirelessly sync your data to your phone.  

Depending on your phone model you have the choice to select the app either from Google Play store, App store, or Windows store. You then have to pair your devices during the initial setup process; the process is easy and fairly self-explanatory. garmin-vivosmart hr band

where buy garmin-vivosmart hr-If you are a little bit like me, got ahead of yourself, and did not pair during the initial setup, you can do that at any time later by pressing the device key to view the menu and select     > pair with Smartphone.

When you have finished with that open the Garmin Connect app and complete the setup process, again it is easy- just follow the screen instructions. Keep an eye on your monthly data allowance, the device syncs quietly in the background. I noticed that it is eating up my 2 GB data allowance fairly quickly.

garmin-express-icon- what is a garmin vivosmarthr Garmin Express™ App for desk-/laptop


what-is-a-garmin-vivosmarthr-I thought installing the desktop app was a good idea, in case I wanted to design my personal workout.

Unfortunately, the Vivosmart HR is not compatible.

After I had created my workout in the Express app, I sent it to my Connect app and found that the Vivosmarthr cannot handle it.

Oh well- at least I had figured that out…..

garmin-vivosmart hr monitor

The Garmin Connect app gives you the opportunity to create a workout manually. Once created, you find the workout shown in your “My day display,” but again it does not seem to find its way to the Vivosmart.

You get all the fitness tracking stats, though, in case you prefer to sync using the desktop app.

You get all the fitness tracking stats, though, in case you prefer to sync using the desktop app.

You could charge and sync if you like once a day, which saves you your mobile data allowance– just a thought.

If you like to use Garmin Express, you have to connect the charging cable to your device and plug it into a USB port on your computer. Next, check your system compatibility and then download the Garmin Express™ app.

After that you open the app and follow the instructions on the screen to add your device to the system; it is easy to do and self-explanatory.

How to use the Garmin Vivosmart HR

The unit tracks your resting- and high heart rate 24/7, it acts as a pedometer, accelerometer, and altimeter. The accelerometer calculates the distance for indoor workouts as well. 
Also, you get your total sleep time, the computation of which is based on movement. You will find your sleep time broken down in time spent in light- and deep sleep.

Sleep Tracking

what-is-a-garmin-vivosmart-hr-sleep-trackinggarmin-fitness sleep trackerYou can set your sleep time in your Garmin Connect app; just go into your user settings, and you find the bed- and wake time when you scroll down the menu.

Also, should you wish to have the sleep mode on during  day-time you press the only physical button on the tracker and select the little crescent moon and then choose “do not disturb.”

You will see the crescent moon indicator on your tracker underneath the time- and day display, which tells you that the device now tracks your sleep.

Intensity Minutes

garmin-vivosmart-hr-reviewsTo improve our health, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking.

If you prefer running, which is a vigorous-intensity activity, then you could do 75 minutes per week, or you could combine moderate and vigorous exercise to achieve your goal.

The Vivosmart hr gives you a breakdown of your progress and how much of your effort you have spent doing moderate or vigorous exercises.

To get credit for your chosen activity, you will have to exercise for at least 10 minutes. In my experience, it is really easy to achieve the goal of 150 intensity minutes per week.

Exercising using Heart Rate Zones

garmin-vivosmart-hr-bandsFurthermore, the tracker allows you to train within a particular HR zone and alerts you when you exercise outside that zone.

When you train in a given zone, you work on your endurance or aerobic capacity, which means, in the long run, you improve your ability to sustain a high-intensity effort for longer.

what-is-a-garmin-vivosmarthr-hr-zonesOn your Vivosmart HR, your can find five HR zones and a custom zone.  

For example, you decide at what percentage of your maximum age-related heart rate you want to train, and then select the zone in the menu. Ideally, to make it count you want to train at 60% of your maximum age-related heart rate, better still 70%.

A very simple way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220.

However, the result does not consider your level of fitness or your genes. And often your true maximum heart rate could be 10 to 20 beats higher or lower than your predicted number.

The only way to find out exactly what your true maximum heart rate is would be to have a stress test done in a lab under clinical supervision. 

How to set the Vivosmart HR for Fitness Tracking

Let us review some of the activity tracking settings. The device has four workout modes; you can choose from Run, Walk, Cardio or Other.

You reach the main menu by pressing the only physical button. Once done you arrive on the main menu touchscreen, and you select this little icon and scroll to your desired workout mode.

what-is-a-garmin-vivosmart-hr-setting-upwhat-is-a-garmin-vivosmarthr-setupwhat-is-a-garmin-vivosmarthr-best-fitness-tracker-for-meYou choose “walk” and have the option to modify this mode by selecting three little dots which take you further into the menu.

From there you can select the activity mode “basic,” which allows you to set the time, distance or calories.

This might sound all a bit complicated- trust me, it is not. You find the setup is fairly self-explanatory and after a little bit of playing around, handling all the touch screen keys becomes second nature.

Tracking and Logging Activity Habits

what-is-a-garmin-vivosmarthr-insight-toolThe Insights “Tool” and the Move Bar can be provoking; I found it rather amusing. It’s almost like big brother is watching you.

Insights will help you to get a deeper understanding of your activity pattern and habits. You can opt-out of this feature at any time. However, it might help you to modify particular activity pattern to meet your goal quicker.

The Connect app will deliver new Insights to you when it has enough data to trigger an Insight report.

The whole idea is to keep track of how much you move and how often, a reminder to be more active. Your Garmin will trigger a Move Bar, if you have not moved for an hour, your fitness tracker will vibrate and tell you: “Move!”

Calorie Count – Watching Your Energy Balance

what-is-a-garmin-vivosmarthr-caloriesActivity trackers such as the Vivosmart hr use a generic heart rate calculation method to determine the calories you burn.

The generic based calorie count uses your weight, gender, activity class and your heart rate to compute the calories you spend during a day.

Even though it’s only a generic formula, I find it gives a good- albeit rough idea where you are with your energy balance.

If you decide to hook up with the MyFitnessPal app, you get to input your daily food/calories to keep a closer eye on your weight management.

Garmin Vivosmart HR Optical Accuracy

Optical Noise

Your Vivosmart HR faces some challenges, particularly when you are exercising. One of the biggest hurdles the technology has to overcome is optical noise, meaning that the sensor has to separate biometric signals, such as heart rate from motion noise.

Wear your device snug and tight, so that it does not move up or down, but make sure it is comfortable.

Sensor Location

garmin-vivosmart hrm reviewSimilarly, the sensor location matters a lot. The manual advises you to keep the fitness band as far away from bony parts of the wrist.

The wrist is the most challenging place for optical heart rate monitoring because of the much higher optical noise.

You got a lot of tendons, bone and muscle there and high variability of blood vessels.

Move your fitness band a bit higher up on the forearm, the density of blood vessels is better, and they are nearer the skin

Skin Tone and Tattoos.

Another problem is skin tone. For instance, darker skin absorbs more green light; most LEDs emit green light. Measuring heart rate through tattooed skin presents another challenge. Avoid wearing the band over any tattooed skin.


A further problem is a big one for the algorithm, which is called a crossover challenge and is created by periodic motion. This issue occurs when the step rate during running falls into the same general range as the heart rate (130steps/beats per min). The sensor algorithm might mistake the step rate for heart rate.

Skin Perfusion

Low skin perfusion, for example in certain heart conditions or diabetics, may present a challenge as the signal-to-noise ratio is reduced. The manufacturer states that the device is not intended to be used for medical purposes.

How to Improve the Vivosmart HR Distance Accuracy

garmin-vivosmart hr monitor

You can improve distance accuracy by using the custom step length feature.

To do that you would have to walk or run a known distance, and count your steps.

You can then input the total steps and distance into the settings on your Garmin Connect app.

Simply go into your settings>user settings and then override the default with your distance and measured step count and the app calculates your step length.

The manufacturer recommends a minimum distance of 400 meters; better is to go for 800 meters.


The Verdict

The Vivosmart HR has been around for nearly a year after Garmin announced it as their first wrist activity tracker with an optical HR sensor in 2015. Since then the model attracted a lot of customers. Certainly, in my gym, every other person I meet, seemed to have bought one or is interested in getting one. Currently, the model has received over 1100 reviews on Amazon, and customers have given mainly four stars.

What benefits did I get from the Garmin Vivosmart HR?

My impression is that the Garmin Vivosmart HR is an excellent entry model. However, if you are a serious hardcore fitness buff, you might want to look at different, more sophisticated devices.

It is the best fitness tracker for me- well currently it is. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Vivosmart HR if you want a unit which gives you feedback and makes you accountable. The device allowed me to review my fitness levels and helped me to change my exercise plan. I can workout for longer and at a higher intensity. 

I could see first health benefits, such as a lower heart rate and a normal blood pressure; I am feeling fitter and less tired. Much inspired by my progress, I am currently planning a walk- to- run- program.

garmin-vivosmart-hr-buyAs my fitness buddy at the gym says: “it changed my life.”  Well, it has certainly changed mine too.

You have control over which functions you want to use or ignore, but one thing is sure, it makes you move more. And with that come all the health benefits you want to see.

In my opinion, it’s a pretty damn good fitness tracker in its class, even with all the limitations.

Bottom Line

If you would like a wearable wrist-based fitness tracker for counting your steps and stairs, this might be the model to start. Also, you can train in a selected HR zone, and your intensity minutes are stored up. Additionally, the device tracks your sleep and if you like your calorie balance too. If you are interested in the Vivosmart HR, check out the latest deals here.

I hope you found the article informative and enjoyed my detailed review. If you like, please leave a comment in the box below.